As author of "U.S. Policy Towards Liberia, 1822 to 2003", I am saddened and disappointed that, through mostly anonymous reviews sent to your website, there has been a carefully orchestrated attempt to undercut my motivation, credentials and policy conclusions in writing the book. I welcome legitimate criticism but reject baseless innuendo and misstatements of fact. Hence this letter.
The accusation: I am a "hired legal gun" and "ex-dictator Charles Taylor’s lawyer"and thus "not an objective source" .
The truth: My law firm and I never represented Mr. Taylor personally. We did represent the Republic of Liberia (and, I might add, much of the time on a pro bono basis) explaining the plight and needs of the Liberian people to the U.S. government and, in turn, conveying to Liberian officials the views of the United States. I am proud of that representation which is in the honorable legal tradition of representing even unpopular causes when there is an opportunity to bring about an understanding between competing interests. The record will show that at all times my concern has been exclusively for the welfare of the Liberian people. Because of my objectivity, both an Eminent Statesman of Liberia and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa publicly have praised my book.
The accusation: I "never spent much time in Liberia" and "lack on-the-ground experience".
The truth: I have been to Liberia nine times over the past decade, each time spending a week or more traveling in various parts of the country and talking with people from all walks of life.
The accusation: I display "the worse (sic) kind of neo-colonial hubris".
The truth: My book is about United States policy toward Liberia, much of which I fault...this is quite the opposite of colonialism which I abhor.
Initially, and as the direct result of my efforts, former President Carter was invited by the competing governments in Liberia to mediate their differences, and he accepted. After the various Yamoussoukro conferences (which I attended) failed to bring about a peaceful solution, the country relapsed into civil war and we terminated our representation. From 1991 to 1997 we had no connection whatsoever with Liberia.
After Mr. Taylor was elected president of the Republic in August of 1997, in a democratic election that former President Carter and the international community certified as free and fair, we represented the Republic of Liberia in its dealings with the government of the United States, all of which is described in detail in my book. Our representation ceased completely in 1999. For the past five years I have had no association whatsoever with Mr. Taylor or Liberia.
In total, then, I and my law firm were involved with Liberia for 3 ½ years. The United States Department of Justice (FARA) records confirm the limited extent of my representation.
My critics have every right to disagree with my book’s thesis that the United States government did too little too late to help Liberia in its time of need, but I find it offensive when they attempt to impugn my integrity and motives. My record of 49 years of legal, governmental and public service to my state, my country and to the international community bespeaks my motivation.
My book (which took 2 ½ years to research and write) is not about Charles Taylor – it is about U.S. policy toward Liberia from 1822 to 2003. I fear that my critics are so obsessed with the former (Taylor) that they cannot focus on the latter (Liberia). I would hope that, at the very least, they will come to understand that my sole goal in writing the book is to change American policy from inactive to pro-active when it comes to our long-time ally, Liberia. In so doing, I demonstrate that U.S. policy toward Liberia – particularly from 1980 to the present – has been counter-productive to the welfare of that country and her people and to urge upon our policy-makers a more forthcoming activist policy that meaningfully assists in the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure and attends to the real needs of the people (education, re-training, rehabilitation, jobs, health care, etc.). To that end, I am proud to say that my book is being read by two former Presidents of the United States, three key members of the United States Senate, current and past leaders of the U.S. State Department and National Security Council, and the highest-ranking United Nations officials with responsibility for Liberia.
These policy-makers now are attempting to correct our flawed policy of past years. The very issues that were mis-handled by the U.S. in the past, such as the refusal to help train the Liberian Army and security forces, with an emphasis on ending human rights abuses; disarmament and rehabilitation; restoration of schools; rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and the like currently are beginning to be addressed in Liberia at long last. That gives me great personal satisfaction, and that is why unwarranted ad hominem attacks upon my book and me personally by some of my critics serve only to undercut the effectiveness of the book as a tool to help improve U.S. policy toward Liberia. I cannot imagine that that is the result that they seek.
All I ask is that your readers who are interested in Liberia read my book and judge for themselves as to my objectivity and motivation in trying to help the people of that country.
Lester S. Hyman